Doing her best to not be obvious, Grace Warner caught her sister Charity’s eye and then looked across the room at Jessica Bright, who was sitting backed into a corner by herself. The lonely optometrist gazed down into her glass of punch and she smiled wanly at Ethan when he spoke with her before going up the stairs to change baby Grant’s diaper. Normally the kids would be in bed by that hour but there was no point with the house full of people and Santa coming the following morning. Maybe the kids would let them sleep in a little if they went to bed late.
Yeah. Right. It’d be nice if it worked that way.
“What’s up with Jessica?” Charity asked as she came over and leaned against the kitchen island and slid close enough so they couldn’t be overheard. “She looks ready to bolt.”
“I’m wondering the same thing. She’s closer to the front door every time I look her way.”
Charity snorted and replied, “Are Tank and Troy coming? They’ll coax her into staying, I bet.”
Jessica looked up just then and seemed to rightly guess she was the topic of discussion. She glanced across the room and then set her punch glass on a nearby table.
“Oh no you don’t, girlie,” Grace said as she and Charity both skirted the crowd and caught up with the shy brunette as she approached Val Teller and Ransome Cross, who were taking turns holding her daughter, little baby Bella.
Val blew kisses against Bella’s chubby little neck before easing her into Jessica’s arms as he said, “You’re not leaving already, are you Jessica? The party just started.”
Jessica gave all of them a halfhearted smile and said, “It’s been a long day and I need to get her into a bath and then into bed.”
Grace smiled at the guys, made their excuses, and then she and Charity pulled Jessica down the hall that led back to Adam and Ethan’s old bedrooms where they could speak privately.
“Okay, ‘fess up,” Charity said as she took Bella into her arms and began swaying with her.
Jessica drew a deep breath and gave a heavy exhale. “I just don’t have the Christmas spirit.”
Grace patted her shoulder and commiserated. “When was the last time you had a good sleep?” The dark circles under Jessica’s eyes told Grace what she already knew.
“I can’t remember. Building up a clientele, caring for Bella on my own, insomnia…and the holiday blues just seem to make it worse.” Grace knew that Jessica didn’t have any family still alive. She was on her own. Lydia had already told her that she and Chance and Clayton were having Jessica and the baby over for Christmas morning. The last thing she needed was to be alone if she was feeling this way. “I wish you’d stay a little longer, Jess,” Grace said. “The guests haven’t even finished arriving yet.”
“That’s right,” Charity agreed. “Tank and Troy should be here soon.”
“Yeah, I gotta go.” Jessica said as she suddenly slipped past them with the baby in her arms.
“But—” Grace held up a hand to stop her but she was down the hall in a flash. They caught up with her just as the front door swung open and let in a frigid gust of air.
“Ho! Ho! Ho!” Tank called as he and Troy piled in and shut the door behind them.
Greetings were called back from the big crowd as Tank and Troy shucked their heavy coats. They turned to hang them on the coat rack, and their faces lit up when they saw Jessica and the baby.
“Hey, there!” Tank said as he reached up to tickly Bella’s chin and Grace noticed the fresh bandage wrapped around his hand.
“Tank, what happened?” she asked, and Jessica groaned softly. Grace could practically feel the stress radiating off of Jessica.
“Just a little accident,” Tank replied with a shrug before flicking a concerned gaze at Jessica, who looked ready to pass out. “You okay, honey?”
Charity slipped an arm through Jessica’s and gave Grace a big-eyed look. “Oh, she’s fine. We were just headed down the hall to change Bella’s diaper.”
“In her coat?”
Grace giggled and said, “We’ll be right back.”
They ushered Jessica into Ethan’s bedroom and urged her to sit down. Charity sat beside her as Grace took the baby from her and snuggled the precious little girl against her chest. Charity said, “Tell us what happened.”
“I stabbed him!” Jessica said and then her face crumpled and she hid it in her hands.
“What?” Charity said, giving a half-laugh. That was the last thing either of them had expected her to say.
“I stabbed him with my stylus.”
Charity snorted and said, “This I gotta hear. Start from the beginning.”
“They stopped by the office, both of them, to see if I was coming tonight.”
Amusement lacing her voice, Charity said, “That hardly seems cause for stabbing Tank.”
“The receptionist knew we are—were friends, knew we knew each other, and she let them into my office. I got up—oh my gosh, it was awful.”
“Keep talking then. Get it off your chest.”
“I was working on my tablet, and I had a stylus, the kind with a pointy end in my hand. I was startled when I heard their voices. They’re so big and they make me so nervous. Anyway, I jumped up, and I was wearing high heels—new ones. When I got up from my desk, one of my heels slid right out from under me. They jumped at me to catch me as I flung my arms wide, trying to get my balance, and well…”
“You stabbed him?” Grace said, and Jessica’s face fell and she moaned into her hands again.
Grace jiggled Jessica’s wrist until she looked up at them and said, “Jess, those two hunks looked happy to see you—and a little concerned about you. Don’t you think you could stay just for a little while?”
“You can hang out with us. We were about to come and get you when you started scooting for the door. You can visit with us. Who knows, you might have a good time. And I think it’s a safe bet those guys don’t want you to feel bad about what happened.”
“Grace, I didn’t just jab him, I impaled his poor hand. I thought I was gonna pass out. He told me it was okay and that he would go to the clinic. I just can’t believe I did that.”
“It was an accident, sweetie. Now, tell me again,” Grace began, determined to get Jessica back on the right track, “Why were they at the optometrist’s office?”
Jessica looked down at her hands and paused. “To make sure I was coming over here tonight.”
Charity made a pushy affirmative sound. “Mmmhmm. They wanted you to be here and I know you were looking forward to this earlier today. How are you doing with the crowd and noise?”
Given Jessica’s dark past, Grace knew that certain situations caused anxiety and she couldn’t blame her. She’d been held captive and kept as a slave for several months before being saved by Charity’s husbands, Val and Ransome.
Jessica swallowed and said, “When everyone is talking all at once, it gets a little hard to keep my nerves under control, but Bella is a good distraction.”
“Okay, then that’s it. You’re hanging out with us,” Grace said.
Jessica rose from the edge of the bed and slipped her coat back off. “Okay, if you don’t mind. I feel pathetic, like I need a babysitter or something.”
“Not at all. We introverts have to unite. Remember? “We came. We’re uncomfortable. And we want to go home!” Her mission was accomplished when Jessica chuckled and nodded
Charity scoffed and rolled her eyes. “Introvert my ass.”
“Hey, it’s true. Not all introverts are shy,” Grace said as she pulled open the bedroom door.
When they went out into the expansive living room, the group was embroiled in a game of Pictionary. Lucy Owen was drawing out her clue on a whiteboard while everyone on her team called out answers.
Teresa Martinez joined them and asked to hold the baby and the four of them sat in the barstools at the kitchen island. Teresa cooed at Bella as she held her and Grace nudged Jessica and pointed across the room. “They’re so cute.”
Looking in the direction she gestured, Jessica smiled and nodded. Gwen Alvarez sat with her husbands, Julian Alvarez and Chris Potter. More precisely, she sat in Chris’s lap while flirting with him and Julian, who sat next to him. Gwen’s baby bulge was just beginning to show and might’ve been overlooked altogether is Chris hadn’t been gently rubbing it while they all talked with each other.
“What a sweet woobie,” Teresa said as she looked in the same direction.
Grace nodded as Charity gave her a surreptitious nudge and then said, “Total woobie. He’s so sweet to her, and then there Julian is, all hot, sexy cowboy man candy goodness. She’s got the best of both worlds and two men who adore her. But Chris? That man is pure sugar.”
“What’s a woobie?” Jessica asked as she looked back at them.
Grace clandestinely pointed at Chris. “That’s a woobie. And that. And that. And that. And that,” she said as she pointed around the room at all the Divine woobies. Adam Grant. Eli Wolf. Richard Warner. Kemp Whittier. Seth Carter. Spencer Ketchum. And Tank and Troy, who were busy watching Beck O’Malley give the next Pictionary clue.
“What? Big guys?” Jessica asked, and Grace noticed that her eyes were on the two big, sexy, ginger hunks. Tank happened to glance back at them, caught them looking at him, and Grace giggled when high color rose in his tanned cheeks and his ears turned a little red.
Charity gigglesnorted and said, “Ah, yes, there it is, that sweet ginger blush.”
Jessica looked down at her hands and her own cheeks grew a little rosy as she said, “He hates that his skin does that. He told me it doesn’t matter how tan he gets, his face still turns red at the drop of a hat.”
“A ginger woobie,” Teresa said as she bounced Bella on her knee. “He helped me last week when I was stuck on the side of the road with a flat tire. I explained that Angel and Joaquin were on the way and he and Troy insisted they could take care of changing the flat for them.”
Grace grinned and said, “Lydia told me that she encountered a rattlesnake on her back porch, and within seconds of calling out, they were there with a garden hoe.”
Jessica looked from one to the other of them as they laid it on super thick for a minute or two and then finally held up her hand. “Okay. Okay. So they’re big, and good in a tight spot.”
Charity snorted and started laughing so hard Grace thought she might fall off of her stool. Guests even looked over from the other room.
Jessica gasped and put her hand to her cheek as if what she’d said had just dawned on her. “Oh! You know what I mean!” But then she started giggling, too. Grace noticed that the laughter seemed to ease her stress a little.
They chortled for another minute and then Grace tipped her chin in Chris’s direction. “Chris, and all the other woobies are gentle giants, you’re right about that, Jess. But they’re also really lavish with affection on their women, and they don’t mind if everyone knows the sun and moon sets over their woman’s head.” She let loose a long, soft sigh, as she thought of the gentle lovemaking Adam had lavished on her that morning. “They give great hugs, lots of kisses…”
Teresa echoed her soft sigh. “And they’re really protective, especially when their woman is hurting. And as gentle as they are with their women, they can be very harsh with those who hurt them.”
Grace glanced over at Teresa as she gazed at her husbands, Angel and Joaquin, but thought she was elsewhere, and Grace said, “Hey, have y’all heard from Luka and Matthias?”
“No. I told you that you could invite them to this party if you wanted to.” Unspoken but obvious in Teresa’s eyes was the fact that she was still hurt by the part her younger brothers-in-law had played in the extensive damage done to her home while Teresa and their family had been away on a trip to see the men’s parents in the valley.
“I tried. Luka didn’t answer when I called him. And Matthias gave me some vague story about having plans already.”
“I told Angel and Joaquin that I’d forgiven them. I mean, it’s not like I could stay mad at them forever.”
Charity hmphed. “I still want to kick both of their asses on your behalf.”
Grace chuckled. “Down girl.” She turned to Teresa and murmured, “They’ll find their way back eventually. And they’re really lucky to have such a forgiving sister-in-law.” Grace secretly still wanted to kick their asses, too.
Teresa smiled at her friends and said, “So now you know what woobies, are, huh, Jessica?”
Grace nudged her and said, “I think the best thing about our woobies is that they have great big soft hearts and taking care of us brings them a lot of joy.”
Jessica nibbled on her lip and her gaze settled on the two handsome redheads across the room. Both men were talking quietly and then they both happened to glance her way.
“You know what I like about them?” Jessica asked.
Grace didn’t have to ask to know she was referring to Tank and Troy. “What?”
“They’re big but they’re not loud. You’d think looking at them that they’re loud and boisterous, but they aren’t…at least not around me.”
Grace smiled and nodded. “I noticed that.”
Jessica nodded. “They understand.”
The three of them nodded, knowing what she meant without needing to have it explained. After what she’d suffered at the hands of her captor, Jessica needed peace and stability. Grace looked across the room at the two men who were gazing at Jessica as if they wanted to cuddle her close and Tank blushed again when Grace winked at him.
Jessica suddenly stood from her bar stool. “Right.” She turned to Teresa. “Would you mind holding her for a few more minutes? I thought I’d…go visit.”
Teresa made a shooing motion and her eyes sparkled with mischief. “You go on. We’ll take turns with the baby. You go…visit.”
Jessica made her way over to Tank and Troy. When he realized she was headed right for them, Troy’s cheeks grew a little ruddy, too. Tank spoke softly to her and shrugged when she lifted his large hand to look at the bandage. She looked up at him and said something and he chuckled and put his arm around her shoulders and kissed the top of her head.
Grace, Charity, And Teresa fist bumped as they watch the evening unfold. Grace knew Jessica had a long row to hoe in her recovery and any man, or men, she fell in love with would need to be patient with her. Observing the way the men drew her into the conversation yet allowed her a little breathing room gave Grace hope. And that’s what Christmas was all about. Hope.
I thought I’d give you all a glimpse into Grace’s Christmas Eve Party at the Divine Creek Ranch. It was my pleasure to give you a little taste of the stories you’ll be seeing next year in Divine. My family and I wish you all a blessed, safe, and peaceful Christmas, and a very happy and prosperous 2015.
If you enjoy erotic romance with a Texas twist, check out the book lineup at the right. If you enjoy Christmas-themed erotic romance, click on this link for a look at my latest book, Absentminded Angel which released recently, just in time for Christmas.